By PHYL NEWBECK
It was 1984 when Connie and Ron Lavallee opened Corporate Art Gallery, a company created to supply artwork and custom framing to offices and other businesses.
Now in their 70s, the couple continues to provide these services to businesses and individuals through Blue Heron Gallery, which they operate out of their Hinesburg home.
Connie studied graphic arts at Marymount College and took classes at the Arts Students League in New York City. She has worked for renowned photographer Ezra Stoller, and as an opaquer (someone who fills in colors on animation cels) for Terrytoons in New Rochelle, N.Y. She came to Vermont to ski, becoming an instructor while studying fashion merchandizing at Champlain College. It was a blind date that introduced her to Ron, whose background includes printing, technical writing, kitchen design and real estate.
After a few years of running their gallery, they moved their business to Fort Ethan Allen and renamed it Art Marketplace but eventually settled in the Champlain Mill in Winooski as Blue Heron Gallery with satellite locations in South Burlington and Stowe.
Although he didn’t have an art background, Ron found that he really enjoyed framing pictures. The problem with multiple locations was that the couple had to hire help and customers really wanted him to do the work. “A picture framer is a little like your favorite bartender,” he said.
In the late 1980s, as the gallery took up more and more of his time, Ron gave up his other business endeavors to work full-time at framing.
After living in South Burlington, Ron and Connie in 2001 found a place in Hinesburg that came with an 1850s English barn that they decided to turn into a studio. By 2006, they had closed their Winooski and Stowe locations and moved Blue Heron into the barn.
“We keep battling away at the renovations,” Ron said.
These days, the main focus of Blue Heron Gallery is local and regional art. They have been a distributor for Vermont printmaker Sabra Field for years. “We run promotions for her work with an offer of free framing,” Ron said. “I enjoy doing it so much I’m willing to give it away.”
Ron said he believes he was either the first or second Vermonter certified by the Professional Picture Framers Association and he and Connie were the first couple.
And while Connie handles promotions and selecting artists for the gallery, she also provides her own work in a collection that includes pastels, acrylics and even some bas relief. Her subject matter ranges from animal portraits to landscapes. Some of those animals include the rescue dogs the couple takes in; they have a passion for adopting older dogs.
The new location in a quieter neighborhood means less walk-in traffic, so more sales are online. They don’t mind the trade off because they love the quiet and beautiful views from their Hinesburg home.
Ron often marvels at the willingness of some regular clients to make the trek. “We’re kind of low-key quiet types,” he said.